Economic partnership agreement trade talks stall

Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) negotiations between East African Community and the European Union are reported to have stalled, EAC sources said in Arusha on Sunday.

Outgoing EAC secretary general Juma Mwapachu admitted recently the rocky road ahead for the conclusive phase of EPA negotiations with the EU.. Photo/FILE 

BY ZEPHANIA UBWANI IN ARUSHA, TANZANIA

IN SUMMARY

Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) negotiations between East African Community and the European Union are reported to have stalled, EAC sources said in Arusha on Sunday.

This follows an objection by the East African Legislative Assembly (Eala) to the use of funds mobilised by the secretariat from a development partner to facilitate the process.  

The regional Assembly, currently meeting in Kigali, Rwanda, is particularly objecting the use of money from the Swedish International Development Agency (Sida) to finance the process. 

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It argues that using a grant from Sida to finance the talks would not only compromise negotiations to the partner states’ detriment “but would as well prejudice and weaken any stronger stance the latter may adopt on the negotiations”. 

Two organs differ

EAC council of ministers, the policy organ of the Community, deliberated on the stalled talks during its just-ended 23rd extra-ordinary meeting in the Rwandan capital. 

An EAC spokesperson said that the two organs of the community, the secretariat and Eala, its legislative arm, have differed on funding of the talks which have dragged on for years.

“The negotiations stalled as a result of the objection by Eala members to the use of funds mobilised by the EAC secretariat from Sida to facilitate the process,” a senior official said. 

He said that the council has requested regional MPs to reconsider their position on the Sida grant amounting to $3.48 million estimated to cover the process. 

The source said the EAC-EU/EPA talks would remain stalled for the time being until the regional assembly approves expenditure of the grant for the purpose or until money is sourced from elsewhere. 

Directly allocate funds

Eala has recommended to the council that partner States should directly allocate funds to finance the process directly from their national budgets. 

The $3.48 million from Sida was initially meant to cater for, among others, supporting the EAC capacity building for defining trade negotiations through researches and studies. 

The money was also intended to cover the costs of organising negotiation meetings and sessions, technical support to the EAC secretariat, sensitisation and public awareness of EPAs, project management, monitoring  and evaluation. 

Talks between EAC and EU on EPAs have often been criticised by the civil society organisations (CSOs) in the region on grounds they were not set to benefit the regional bloc. 

Eala has repeatedly wanted its signing delayed, a position objected to by the secretariat arguing that abandoning negotiations would affect certain international commitments to the detriment of the bloc.

EPA is a scheme designed to create a free trade area (TFA) between the European Commission of the EU and the Group of African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries, including East African states. 

The agreements are responses to continued criticism that non-reciprocal and discriminating preferential trade agreements offered by the European Union were not compatible with the World Trade Organisation rules. 

In November 2007, EAC States signed an interim economic partnership agreement with EU covering reciprocal liberalisation of trade in goods, comprehensive EPAs on bilateral trade in services, investments and other trade-related issues. 

Outgoing EAC secretary general Juma Mwapachu admitted recently the rocky road ahead for the conclusive phase of EPA negotiations with the EU. 

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